This month, a strain of the flu has infected 44 people in the U.S. and Canada. Cases of the illness, called Type A flu (or the flu), have been reported in ten European countries, and the virus has killed more than 1,000 people in Bangladesh.

A group of scientists and the World Health Organization have sought to research ways to curb the spread of the flu, which causes mild flu-like illness in most people, but can be lethal for those over 65, those with weak immune systems, and pregnant women. As part of that research, researchers are looking at the virus-carrying particle itself. To do so, they are studying paper towels.

“Traditional containment methods like ceaseless shaking, heat, and confining patients to isolated environments are not feasible in a rapidly growing networked world,” said Dr. Dennis L. Lacey, a professor of infectious diseases at Columbia University, in a press release.

Paper towels are easily sanitized in hospitals and pharmacies, so researchers have been looking at those tissues to see if they can also help combat the flu.

Researchers led by Olivia Irving, an associate professor at the Department of Infectious Diseases at Columbia, are working on a technical paper towel to help fight the virus. The paper towel has a photo sensor, a feature in many smartphones and consumer-grade smartwatches.

The sensor can be coated on surfaces to help send small amounts of virus-fighting antibodies into the tissue and thus protect it from spreading around the body.

A number of different companies have been testing out paper towels infused with virus-fighting antibodies in their production. The famous linens company, Cottonelle, in addition to a few other manufacturers, is incorporating those particles into some of its paper towels and, in those cases, are testing out the approach as a “proof of concept” to aid in the fight against the flu.

“We are always looking for ways to use new technologies to enhance the field of clinical oncology,” said Christophe Dutaud, a spokesman for Cottonelle.

According to Cottonelle, the company is in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and has begun a pilot study to assess the capabilities of a paper towel to bolster its flu-fighting capabilities.

Both Cottonelle and Cottonelle have claimed that the paper towels that come with its “ideal-case scenario” are low risk to the consumers of health.

Lacey said that without FDA approval, the paper towels may be useful, but warned that they could increase risk to those who are allergic to latex or have latex allergies.

The paper towels’ benefits have encouraged researchers who, before the increased use of cell phones and anti-viral drugs, relied on regular hand washing as a means of fighting the flu.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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